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Learning How to do HR from Marketing - Guest Article by Ian Thompson

Recruiting scarce software engineers is tough, but some SME Tech companies are relying on clichés on their careers websites to attract candidates.   Photos and captions promise free fruit and coffee, games consoles, “famous” parties, funky office features, drinks on a Friday and casual dress.  Few include stories about capable bosses who care for their teams, the interesting and challenging work on offer or opportunities to develop skills and careers. 

It’s the same in other industries. Careers site statements that “people are our greatest resource”, “we care about our customers” and “we are a fast-moving company” suggest superficial thought about attracting candidates.  Information about some senior public sector roles is full of facts, but no passion.  Wildly inconsistent job outlines suggest HR has simply cut-and-pasted hiring manager drafts.  Some US-owned companies may have had their careers sites written by a longwinded lawyer on a particularly risk-averse day.

London-based Eigen Technologies recruitment role outlines stand out.  I wonder if they were rewritten by Marketing or drafted to Marketing style guidelines.  They don’t read like traditional HR.  They have three conventional sections, outlining role purpose, duties and personal specification, but their statements grab my attention and excite me:

“As a Senior Software Engineer, a typical day might include:

  • Writing code.  Because writing code is cool! …
  • Studying a pal’s pull request to make sure our code quality stays awesome …

… We’d love to hear from you if:

  • You’re passionate about learning.  You care deeply about broadening your horizons and developing yourself …
  • You’re biased towards acting.  You don’t like being micromanaged or having a babysitter.  Do you take pride in identifying problems and taking responsibility for solving them? …

… To land this amazing gig, you’ll have plenty of experience delivering web apps … Coming from a machine learning background would get you massive bonus points.”

This company has my attention.  They have an exciting and consistent tone of voice that supports the brand of an Artificial Intelligence-based tech company.

As well as writing in a compelling and brand-aligned tone of voice, there are other ideas to take from Marketing.

Managing HR services as “products” can lead to a different perspective.  Unlike most HR services, ‘products’ are designed, costed, built to quality specifications, accessed by ‘customers’, launched and promoted, reviewed and developed.  Try this with one of your services, e.g. an employee assistance programme or manager advice helpline.

HR teams too frequently create one-size-fits-all services and intervention with superficial input from others.   The ‘Agile HR’ approach many not suit every organisation, but the ideas of working with others to create new HR products are worth considering.

Why not segment ‘customers’ into a handful of important, but distinct, groups (job candidates, new starters, managers, remote workers, or whatever) and create customer experience journey maps that reveal the moments that mattered most to each of these customer personas? These can be used to create, test and develop HR services that better satisfy needs. Deloitte Human Capital have worked on this and ex-BBC HRD and consultant, Lucy Adams, has more ideas in her blogs and ‘Disruptive HR’ book.  She argues that creating ‘moments of truth’ for customers that align and support the brand leads to HR thinking more holistically and creatively about the experiences we are creating for our people experiences at work.

Understanding the methodologies behind market research can help take engagement feedback beyond an annual engagement survey with high-level presentation of results like “our overall employee satisfaction is 75%”. What do comments like this really mean?

Style guides keep the tone of HR messaging, websites, documents, emails, etc. aligned.  If ‘simplicity and clarity’ becomes a conscious policy, then hopefully there will be none of the passive, defensive and convoluted that explains service problems.

Can we better market the HR function as a whole? What is our specific brand?  What is the customer experience of our work at critical moments (for them and not us)?

HR leaders may learn lessons on presenting business cases for project funding from those used to request advertising budgets, especially the questionable assumptions that sit in small print behind the anticipated financial benefits of some campaign.  L&D has always struggled to propose a Return On Investment, but we should take a leaf out of the marketing book, make some reasonable financial assumptions on benefits and be more confident in making the case.

Can we learn from product or service launches?  We may not have the budget of our marketing colleagues, but we tend to think of an announcement and not a publicity campaign.  Will a creative and appropriately pitched campaign get more buy in?

Can HR teams afford to not to take on these lessons in an era when Apple, Amazon and social media have led customers to expect instant, easy to use and attractive products?  Do we want our services to be lumped with railways and unresponsive call centres as clunky, unresponsive and old-fashioned.

 

Ian Thompson is a Yorkshire-based senior HR professional and CIPD Fellow.  His varied HR career started at Durham University and has included HR leadership roles in estate agency, financial services and technology.  He has also worked as an interim manager on a diverse range of change and HR assignments.  As International HR Director at TSYS, he led the HR team through a five-year business transformation of a large multinational FinTech business.  He is committed to progressive HR and insatiably curious about workplaces and leadership.”

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